The agricultural sector (see Figure 4), comprising food crops, tree crops, fishery, livestock, and forestry sub-sectors is the backbone of Sierra Leone’s economy. Nearly two-thirds of the population depends on the sector for its livelihood (Braima et al., 2006; SSL, 2007; SSL, 2009). The crops sub-sector dominates the agricultural GDP with 33% in 2010 (SSL, 2010). Most farmers produce a wide range of rainfed food and tree crops, predominantly using the slash-and-burn or shifting cultivation farming system (SSL, 2007). 

The major food crops are rice, cassava, maize, millet, sorghum, sweet potato, and groundnut. They are produced by smallholders with an average land holding averaging from 0.5-2.0 hectares. Rice is the most important crop, cultivated by nearly 85% of farmers, with an estimated annual consumption of 76 kg per person (Catling, 1992; SSL, 2007; IRRI, 2004). Cassava is the second most important crop. The tubers and leaves are consumed by households and cassava products (gari, flour and chips), are in high demand in urban areas. Production of food crops, especially rice and maize increased during 2008-2010 (Table 2). Oil palm is the main tree crop. Other perennial crops are citrus, cocoa, coffee, coconut and sugarcane. Crop yields are generally low due to: limited access to agricultural inputs, low levels of mechanization, pest and disease problems, lack of markets and market information, labour shortages and a weak private sector.

Table 2. Food crop production (1000 metric tons) trends, Sierra Leone, 2008-2010 

Annual growth rate (%)


Crop type  2008 2009 2010
Rice 640 785 1 062  33.0
Cassava 4 058  2 516  4 474  5.1
Sweet potato  180 161 187 1.9
Groundnut 133 75 147 5.3
Maize 57 30 79 19.3
Source: IMF, 2011


Rice and cassava contributed 15% and 6% respectively of the agricultural GDP in 2010 (SSL, 2010). Total value of exports from cocoa increased from US$ 15 to US$ 26 million (80%), coffee from US$ 1.5 to 1.7 million (13%), and palm oil from US$ 2 to US$ 4 million (100%) during 2008-2010 (IMF, 2011).
Sierra Leone’s livestock sub-sector is small and underdeveloped, contributing only 3% of the agricultural GDP in 2010 (SSL, 2010). Household-based cattle, sheep, goat, pigs and chicken rearing predominates (FAO, 2005; SSL, 2007). Approximately 90% of the cattle are found in the Northern Province, mainly Koinadugu and Bombali districts. The civil war reduced the Total Livestock Units in the country, although numbers have recovered since 2009 (Table 5). Demand for livestock products greatly outstrips domestic supply, and imports of livestock and livestock products are high. About US$ 8.9 million worth of meat and meat products and US$ 11.6 million worth of live animals were imported in 2009 (FAO, 2012). 
Sierra Leone has abundant water resources, with huge growth potentials in fisheries. There are nine major rivers with catchment areas varying from 720 km2 (Peninsular) to 14 140 km2 (Sewa). The fishery industry consists of artisanal, industrial and inland fisheries, and aquaculture. Artisanal fisheries operate in estuaries and coastal waters extending from the shoreline to a depth of 15-45 m. It is a significant source of employment, rural income, and the largest single source of protein for the majority of Sierra Leoneans. Industrial fisheries operate in the open deep waters and are highly capital intensive and foreign-dominated, but constitute the mainstay for revenue generation from fisheries. Inland fisheries and aquaculture operate in rivers, lakes, floodplains and swamps. The fishery sub-sector contributed about 7% of the agricultural GDP in 2010 (SSL, 2010). In 2009, actual revenue from fisheries was recorded at about U$ 2.6 million, and was estimated to increase to US$ 3.2 million in 2010 (IMF, 2011).
Sierra Leone was originally a forested country with over 60% of its land covered by closed high forest or moist evergreen and semi-deciduous types. However, less than 10% of the original primary forest cover remains today, as a result of deforestation attributed to the shifting cultivation practiced by more than 75% of the country’s population, growing populations and shortening fallows. The forest is used for timber, firewood and food and tree crop production. In 2010, the forest sector contributed about 3% of the agricultural GDP (SSL, 2010).

Diamonds, rutile, cocoa and fish are the main export commodities. Revenue from exports was estimated at US$ 363 million in 2010 and US$472 million in 2011 (CIA, 2012). Main export partners in 2011 were Belgium (28.9%), Romania (12.6%), Netherlands (9.2%), China (7.3%), United States of America (6.9%), Turkey (6%) and United Kingdom (5.8%). Import commodities include foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels and lubricants and chemicals. Imports amounted to about US$ 736 million in 2010 and US$ 1 314 in 2011 (CIA, 2012) and came mainly from China (16.2%), South Africa (10.9%), USA (7.4%), United Kingdom (7.2%), India (5.1%) and Malaysia (4.3%) (CIA, 2012). 

Land tenure in Sierra Leone is characterized by a dual ownership structure. Land in the Western Area is held under the English freehold concept, while land in the rest of the country (i.e. the Provinces) is held in communal ownership under customary tenure and is controlled by traditional rulers who administer it on behalf of their communities in accordance with customary principles and usage. Women generally cannot inherit land, and their land use options are dictated by their fathers, brothers or husbands and the strength of their lineage family within the community. The land use system makes it difficult for the vulnerable – especially women, youths and outsiders to access land and/or invest in its improvement. Since limits of family owned lands and lands administered by local authorities are not clearly defined, there are frequent land disputes. Also, due to unclear property rights, conflicts frequently arise between herdsmen, landowners, and farmers. For more information click here